I made a few attempts at doing a recap of this week’s episode of The Following and deleted each and every one of them. I really don’t like to start something and then not finish it, but, in the case of this program, I’m throwing my hands in the air and letting go. I think the straw that broke my blogger’s back on Monday night was the scene when Ryan and Debra ignored the pleas of the dominatrix who uttered the safe word “red” about five times, hoping that the FBI would come to her rescue. I even started saying “red” for her, but it didn’t help.
It’s not a question of buying into a premise of a show, no matter how silly or scary or unbelievable it may be at first look. There are any number of shows which take dramatic license to places never gone before and still captured our imaginations and viewership, keeping us interested and wanting more. One example is “Dexter”. From the first episode, this loveable serial killer and his storyline were winners. Over the years, his body count has grown but we always understood why he did what he did, some people just need killing and he can’t help himself – it’s in his DNA. That, together with his charm and likeability is what drew us in and kept us on his side. Sure, the past couple of seasons have seen Dexter take a few turns in his MO, killing people, other main characters, because they were on to him, but that isn’t a terrible thing in terms of story development.
I also think “Breaking Bad” has managed to create something that we can, in some way, relate to and, in turn, look forward to seeing what’s going to happen next. Walter White, the under-appreciated and underpaid high school chemistry teacher, found a way to leave some money for his family, believing that he was dying from lung cancer, by becoming the “Top Chef” of the crystal meth world. His sidekick and business partner, Jesse, is the voice of reason and conscience of the show, and I, as a viewer, have come to like him more than any other character. The reason it works is because the writers and producers never strayed from the original plan, and it was a good one. I’ve yet to see one single scene that wasn’t necessary or was an attempt to pull one over on the viewer. There’s even a reason why Walter has the kinds of flowers he does around his pool. We also want Walter and company to get away with their crimes, and making a bad guy into someone we can feel empathy with or sympathy for is no easy task, but “Breaking Bad” has managed to do just that.
We watch “The Walking Dead”, knowing full well that a zombie apocalypse is the stuff of which horror flicks are made, but the characters are people we care about, are afraid for and, in some instances, afraid of. Oddly enough, the majority of fans of “The Walking Dead” are women, something the producers explain is because of women’s innate ability and need to care for family and keep them safe. That’s exactly what Sheriff Rick and his rag-tag group of survivors are doing – they’re keeping their newly formed family together by whatever means necessary, and we want them to succeed and, hopefully, make it through all of what’s gone on to find a better, albeit, different world.
Jack Bauer, the main character of Fox’s enormous hit “24”, was someone who should have been serving 1,000 years in prison for the things he pulled. He broke every law on the books, from parking violations to just about every condition and rule of engagement set by the Geneva Convention, but we were willing to overlook all of that because Jack was a real hero in our eyes. He was fighting terrorists, and if that meant playing outside of the rules, we were okay with it. In his view of a very dangerous world, the end always justified the means. He was fighting the good fight, and very few of the folks he worked for understood what that really required or the toll it took on him. We saw what he had to do, even when they didn’t, and we cared about what happened to him as he battled both sides.
“The Following” promised something that they’ve yet to deliver. We expected to see a psychological thriller, a game of cat and mouse between the forces of good and evil. What we got was a whole lot of people being killed for no apparent reason. Joe Carroll inspires nothing that would make any of us believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of people would become his followers. Eleven episodes have aired, and we’re still no closer to knowing why he does what he does. Was it just that he was denied tenure? Did his parents force him to eat lima beans or did his classmates stuff him in his locker when he was in junior high? He spent years writing a blog from prison, gathering supporters from far and wide, but we have no idea what he wrote that could galvanize his following to become killers. It had to be damn good and it had to be more than just a promise of a meaningful life. Oprah did that for years, and did it well, but after a while, even her followers began to see some flaws.
Ryan Hardy is a mess, pure and simple. His family, with the exception of his sister, is dead. His investigation of Joe Carroll nearly killed him, leaving him an alcoholic with a pacemaker. So why would the FBI bring him back to do anything but act as a consultant? He’s a liability, both physically and emotionally, and yet, he’s the first one to run out the door to chase down the follower du jour, often without backup or without even notifying anyone of his whereabouts. Kevin Bacon is a very good actor, but he’s stuck in a role and with scripts that don’t work. I’ve watched every week, hoping that Ryan Hardy would become someone worth watching, and we could connect with him, but, after eleven weeks, it still hasn’t happened.
I guess what I’m saying is that the writers and producers have let us down, particularly with regard to character development. Of course, there’s the insulting portrayal of anyone who is supposed to be a good guy. Week after week, we’ve seen a group of cult members beat investigators to the punch. They’re not just one step of ahead of them – the followers are calling the shots, setting the time and place for their actions, while leaving the FBI and the rest of law enforcement to clean up the mess and collect the bodies – a day late and a dollar short. According to Kevin Williamson and the folks at Fox, the FBI is inept and clueless at every juncture. I can take a mistake or two, but not every week on a regular basis. It’s become predictable and a bit boring.
The ratings show that I’m not alone in my assessment, as they’ve fallen steadily from 10 million for the season premiere to approximately 6 million for April 1st’s episode. Not terrible, but I thought that ratings were supposed to go up, or at least remain steady, if a show is a hit. I guess I could’ve thrown something together and called it a recap, but it wouldn’t have been fair to you or me. This blogging thing is supposed to be fun, and if I can’t figure out a way to write a post that’s interesting or entertaining, then there’s really no point in doing one. I’ll keep an eye on the show, to see if they can pull it together, but, until they do, if they ever do, I’ll write about other things. It’s a shame, really, with all they had to work with – the potential for a good storyline, a great cast and a perfect time slot on Fox, that “The Following” chose to serve it to viewers without putting some real work into it and holding our attention. There’s a big difference between asking us to suspend disbelief and hoping that we’ll overlook chasms of implausibility without giving us a little something to fill in the holes.